Far be it from me to offer tips on blogging to ‘my newer sisters and brothers-in WordPress’ (eeeeugh – why does that phrase makes me so queasy?) since I’ve only been blogging since August. On the other hand, I am quite old and I’ve been writing one way or another for as long as I can remember. A bit of this and a bit of that… my first intended project, I recall, was the translation of the King James Bible into ‘proper English’. I’d have been about five.
So I’ll have a go. It’s supposed to be one piece of advice, but I never do what I’m told.
- Don’t make your post too long, since people nowadays (including me, I’ve recently discovered) have a short little span of attention. You need to make the best use of your material anyway – it’s often possible to split what you have to say into two or three separate or consecutive posts and not give people wordigestion. I made this mistake myself to start with, and still make it, at intervals. When I feel like it. I may even make this post too long. Why not? It’s almost my birthday – give the cat another goldfish.
- Follow other people’s blogs and read other people’s posts. You can also follow tags that interest you, which brings you into contact with new bloggers. If you just follow the same five people all the time you’re not going to learn much – and not likely to attract new followers yourself. The value of reading other people’s blogs is a) pleasure and b) finding out what bores you. If something bores you – don’t do that. Why bore people just because other people bore people?
- The other thing to notice from other people’s posts – which ones do you read and which ones do you just… Nah! So what put you off? Did the picture fail to grab your attention? Or maybe the title was a bit… so what? What people see in their WordPress reader is the title and the first few sentences of your post, and they’re probably only going to be skimming those as they swoop on by. So make your title a good one and your first few lines a baited hook. That’s one thing I don’t have to work too hard at: a lifetime of downtrodden conformity has left me with an appetite for colour and drama. I take such pleasure choosing pictures and titles and concocting killer first lines. I have noticed that some titles – and I perpetrated one or two myself in the early days – sound like those dreadful ‘compositions’ one was made to do at school. Ten Minutes to Wait. The Life History of a Penny. Scene through a Window. Yawn! Which would you be most likely to read – A Really Embarrassing Incident or The Curious Incident of the Blancmange at the School Gates? My Idea of Heaven or Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends? You’re not writing an essay to impress the teacher. Think of it more like a magazine article or a letter to a friend.
- Try not to get addicted to stats. I’m still trying to cure myself of stat-addiction. There really should be a clinic for it. Every hour or so I check in: has that little column gone up since last time? Have I collected any more likes? It’s sad – and I’m convinced watching stats is like waiting for a kettle to boil – it never does. I think the best plan is to produce the best post you possibly can, for you. Just focus on the quality. Not all your posts will be brilliant, but they should all be good enough – not just some old splurge. And once in a while you’ll write a really good one. And you’ll know, when you have. Yay!
- That being said, it’s possible to dismiss a post you’ve just written as too lightweight, too ordinary or not exactly what you intended when you set out, and it turns out to be really popular. So that’s the next lesson – people are different and have different tastes. Also, you’ve already read the post – over and over, so the novelty’s worn off – but it won’t have for your readers.
- Be yourself – which, surprisingly, takes the longest time to learn. Blogging gives you a chance to use your real voice from a safe space. Nobody can see you. Nobody’s going to laugh or give you that sideways look, meaning Wot ‘ave we got ‘ere – some kind of nutter? I’m odd. I think and speak differently, and ever since I started getting the ‘nutter?’ stare, when I was five or six, I’ve been translating. All my life I’ve hesitated, dumbed down, bleached out the colour, the poetry, the… anything that would give the game away, expose me for either a poet or a weirdo. In my blog, very gradually, I am starting to hear – on the outside of my head – the untranslated me. It’s a raw, vulnerable feeling, throwing off the snail-shell – but it’s possible, because I’m safely over here and you’re safely over there, and never the twain shall meet. (But beware of crossing that seductively blurred line between fascinating little details and way too much information!)
- You are writing for other people, not at them. You shouldn’t really be pleading with them to reach in to you where you lie, curled and whimpering in some miniature mind-prison. Ideally you will be writing because you now actually want to reach out to them. There is a mesmerising paragraph in Anita Brookner’s novel Look at Me:
It was then I saw the business of writing for what it truly was and is to me. It is your penance for not being lucky. It is an attempt to reach others and make them love you. It is your instinctive protest, when you find you have no voice at the world’s tribunals, and that no one will speak for you. I would give my entire output of words, past, present, and to come, in exchange for easier access to the world…
When I first read that paragraph, I could have screamed. Maybe I even did scream because that was so exactly how it was for me at the time. And I think there will always be an element of that – but having grown older and got to know myself better, I think it may be possible to move beyond that. You can say, effectively – to hell with the world. This is me. Is that you? Shall we talk?
I used to envisage myself as a spider. I was lonely, and I was angry. By writing I was attempting to lure those pesky flies (i.e. other human beings) into my steamy lair. Now I guess I’m more like one of the strawberry plants my neighbour once gave me, and which I planted on my rockery. It sends out runners in all directions – green tendrils, seeking gaps in the rock, little pockets of earth – and then it puts down roots, from the runners. A new plant starts to grow, and little strawberries come, then flowers. And in this way, it takes over the world!!! (No, not really.)
So, new peeps, new ‘sisters and brothers-in WordPress’ (eeeeugh) the internet is your rockery. Start growing on people.